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Posted March 07, 2005 by mattlawrence in Cuban Music

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The largest troupe of Cuban performers to defect from the island arrived for a sold-out performance at the University of Miami this week.



El Nuevo Herald

The cast of the Havana Night Club show, the largest number of Cuban artists to defect during Fidel Castro’s four-decade regime, arrived Sunday in Miami.

The troupe, which made headlines for its dramatic departure from Cuba in November, will perform at the University of Miami—its first show in the United States outside Las Vegas. Thursday’s performance is sold out.

Wearing red jackets bearing the name of the show and the words ‘‘Celebrate freedom,’’ the 51 musicians, singers and dancers landed at Miami International Airport on a flight from Las Vegas, where the troupe is based.

Visibly moved as they arrived in South Florida, many recorded their own arrival with still and hand-held video cameras.

‘‘I want to have a remembrance of this,’’ dancer Nilder Santos said. ``It’s like a dream come true.’‘

The Havana Night Club show made headlines late last year when the majority of its members defected in Las Vegas and launched their show in the Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust Resort and Casino.

For the troupe, the road to Las Vegas was peppered with international intrigue.

The show had been invited to play there, but troupe members couldn’t secure visas. Visas were finally granted after the show’s director, Nicole Durr, proved to the State Department that the troupe operated independently of the Cuban government.

But the Cuban government initially refused to let the troupe travel to the United States. Amid international pressure, the government eventually relented.

Concerned that they would be barred from performing once they returned to Cuba, 51 of 53 performers defected.

Havana Night Club is the largest musical show from Cuba to appear in the United States in about 50 years, and it is estimated that the Las Vegas shows have attracted more than 200,000 patrons.

This week, the show will be redesigned and expanded for a Miami audience.

Tickets for the group’s only Miami show—at UM’s 7,900-seat Convocation Center in Coral Gables—sold out days after going on sale. The troupe is on a break from its Vegas run.

‘‘This is a giant spectacle and presents a huge challenge for us,’’ said Jose David Alvarez, 24, the show’s master of ceremonies.

The show is based on Cuba’s cultural roots, he said.

‘‘Miami is the right city for it,’’ Alvarez said. ``It’s like facing thousands of critics, all of them experts on Cuban culture.’‘

Singer Naomi Rojas said she’s happy to be in Miami, because ``it’s like being among Cubans.’‘

‘‘To appear in Miami is an honor for us and a great opportunity for the future of the company,’’ said Ariel Machado, who produced the show in Cuba.

At MIA, friends and relatives awaited anxiously for the artists.

Elizabeth Molina said she was waiting for a pianist friend she hadn’t seen in 24 years.

‘‘We’ve known each other since preschool in Cuba. We have stayed in touch all these years,’’ Molina said before her friend, Adrin Ortega, arrived.

Mayeln Montes, who has performed in Havana Night Club for seven years, hopes to see two of her cousins who live in Miami—as soon as possible.

‘‘I haven’t seen them for many years,’’ said the artist, adding that coming to Miami is ``a unique experience.’‘

‘‘We have worked with great care to bring this show to the Cubans and Latinos in Miami,’’ she said.

The troupe’s Las Vegas show is scheduled to end in April.

Herald translator Renato Perez contributed to this report.

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